By Susie Mesure
As soon as Neal Futcher saw Wonersh Mill, a dilapidated water mill near the Surrey village of Shamley Green, he knew what he wanted to do: build a swimming pool where the mill race used to push the water wheel.
The old Grade II-listed mill, now renamed The Water Mill and for sale for £8.5m, had been on the market for two years before Futcher took the plunge. “My lack of experience in property development and construction probably helped or I never would have done it.” He paid £900,000 for the roughly 300-year-old shell in 2006, little imagining the scale of the restoration challenge.
“It was an absolute ruin. The upstairs floors were all rotten. But the sound of running water gave me the idea of putting an indoor swimming pool where the water used to flow through the middle of the mill, where the wheel would have been located,” he says. His original goal was to be able to swim from an indoor to an outdoor pool, but he heeded an engineer’s advice to keep them separate to avoid extra damp and condensation.
It took four years of planning, including a court appeal, plus two years of civil engineering before construction on the house could begin. “The water mill was built against the side of a clay dam, which was leaking water. At some point, engineers told me, the little leaks would give way and wash the building away,” says Futcher, who runs a company supplying high street stores with children’s pyjamas. The solution was an “incredibly expensive scheme of what’s called a double row of contiguous piles to secure the dam,” he adds.
The mill’s listed status meant that Futcher’s team had to save as much of the original structure as possible. But most of the oak beams were so rotten they had to get special planning permission to deconstruct the frame, piece by piece. “The oak frame wasn’t allowed to leave site so we laid it all out in the field, numbered it all, repaired it on site, and put it back together.” Only then could the construction really get under way.
After more than a decade of work the finished mill, set in eight acres, five miles south of Guildford, has a modern kitchen with a range cooker by La Cornue and worktops made from Carrara marble. There are five reception rooms, five bedrooms, six bathrooms and the two swimming pools.
Some of the mill machinery has been preserved behind glass in the dining room, which is the former turbine hall. “The mix of old and new is what gives the house its character and soul; I couldn’t have achieved that with a brand new home in the middle of a field,” says Futcher.
The Water Mill was finally finished in 2017. “I had my first swim indoors on Christmas Eve,” recalls Futcher. The indoor pool, which has a counter-current system to swim against, adjoins a teak-floored spa and gym. The 15m outdoor pool has a solar cover that reduces heating costs and chlorine requirements. “The whole house was designed to be as energy efficient and as economic as possible,” he adds.
Futcher has plans to hunt for a new challenge somewhere on the coast. “I’d like to move to the coast and do another project, not quite on this scale, but I’ve learnt a lot from this. I love living in a country house but I want to be nearer the sea.”
Photography: SkyShot Global Ltd/Savills